Historic Thoughts on Continental Alignment

Three well-known historic scholars made note of the apparent match or “fit” between continental margins on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean basin. These observations inspired explorations and studies that eventually led to the development of the Plate Tectonic Theory and our understanding of the geologic history of Appalachian/Caledonian terranes.

Physical Map of America and Africa and the Atlantic, William C. Woodbridge, 1845. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection.
Francis Bacon

Francis BaconScientist, Lawyer (1561-1626). Today, Bacon is widely regarded as a major figure in scientific methodology and natural philosophy during the English Renaissance. He is largely credited with ushering in the new early modern era of human understanding.

Bacon, in 1620, was the first to note that the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America looked as if they would fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von HumboltScientist, Explorer (1769-1859). Humbolt is recognized as the founder of the natural science disciplines of physical geography, climatology, ecology, and oceanography. His description of the continents in his masterpiece, “Cosmos, Draft of a Physical Description of the World”.

Alfred Wegener

Alfred L. WegnerGeophysicist, Meteorologist (1880-1930). During his lifetime, Wegner was primarily known for his achievements in meteorology and as a pioneer of polar research, but today he is remembered as the originator of the theory of “continental drift” by hypothesizing in 1912 that the continents are slowly drifting around the earth (Kontinentalverschiebung). His hypothesis was controversial and not widely accepted until the 1960’s, when numerous technological discoveries (paleomagnetism, radiometric dating, deep sea drilling) provided strong support for continental drift, and thereby, a model for plate tectonics.